And they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.
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Figs are one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world--and also one of the oldest symbols for women's sexuality...because of their shape, texture, and seeds...because of their association with the fig leaves in the Garden of Eden.
The fig began life in Asia Minor--between Eastern Turkey and North India--and has spread to most parts of the world congenial to its growth. Its remains have been found in Neolithic excavations. On ancient Egyptian papyrus dating back to 1567-1085 BCE, it speaks itself about its origins:
"Hear the voice of the figtree:It's mentioned in the Bible. Greeks claimed that the Goddess Demeter gave it to them--and their athletes wore them as medals in sports contests.. Buddha gained enlightenment under a wild fig tree (though another species--the Ficus religiosa "bo" tree). Cato knew of 6 varietals and, 200 years later, Pliny talked about some 29. The Romans brought them to England. The Spanish carried them to the New World in the 1500s, where missionary fathers in the 1700s planted them in California from San Diego to Sonoma, creating the Mission Fig.
There are four main types of fig: caprifigs, Smyrna figs, common figs, and San Pedro figs. Caprifigs don't produce fruit, just pollen. Common figs don't require pollination. But Smyrna figs depend on pollen-carrying fig wasps from caprifig trees to pollinate them. San Pedro figs produce 2 crops a year and, oddly enough, the first crop doesn't need pollination--but the second, maturing in late summer, absolutely requires pollination by the fig wasp.
How does this pollination or "caprification" work? Actually, it's an interesting story. Smyrna fig trees do not produce blossoms on their branches; instead they produce huge numbers of tiny flowers inside female receptacles that ultimately grow into the fleshy fig. Pollination, clearly, is a problem. How to get pollen--which is produced only by the caprifig tree--into these closed receptacles filled with tiny flowers? (The "real" fruit, of course, are the tiny seeds inside the fig that are produced from all these flowers.)
Enter the stingless wasp called Blastophaga psenes, who adores the fruity receptacles. Its life takes place in a couple of stages, involving being born in a caprifig male receptacle, mating, moving into another fig receptacle to lay eggs, and dying. In April, then, a bunch of wasps will be born in caprifig receptacles (male) and stay there while the fruit produces pollen. When they leave in June, covered in pollen, a good percentage of them will enter the receptacle of an edible female cultivar, lay their eggs, and effectively fertilise the long-styled female flowers there. They generally die on the spot--and they and their eggs are absorbed into the fruit itself.
Needless to say, growers increase the chances of bumper crops of fruit by hanging bunches of the caprifig fruits in the female Smyrna fig trees. The caprifigs are picked just before the wasps are ready to leave and they are hung in baskets or strung on wires from the branches of the cultivated fig trees to be pollinated. New caprifigs are strung among the branches every 4 days over a three-week period.